You use your hands every day, and it’s easy to take for granted everything they help you do. But some of those daily tasks may have put stress on your hands and wrists, contributing to the development of a painful condition called carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).
At Performance Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine with offices in Toms River, Shrewsbury, and Wall Township, New Jersey, board-certified orthopaedic surgeon, David B. Dickerson, MD, offers effective solutions that address the pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling associated with CTS.
Keep reading to learn more about CTS and what you can do to manage your pain.
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome?
CTS is a type of entrapment neuropathy that affects your wrists and hands. It develops when the median nerve, the nerve responsible for feeling and movement in the wrist and hand, is compressed.
The median nerve lies in a small passage in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. When the tunnel narrows from swelling in your wrist, it puts pressure on the median nerve, triggering pain and other uncomfortable symptoms, including numbness, tingling, burning, hand weakness, and shock-like shooting sensations into your fingers.
Why do I have CTS?
Most people develop CTS because of a combination of factors, and older (>65) people and women are more likely to have it. Other factors that put you at increased risk of developing CTS include:
- Genetics: Inherited anatomical difference in the carpal tunnel
- Pregnancy: Hormone changes can contribute to wrist swelling
- Repetitive hand and wrist movements or positioning: Prolonged repetitive motions, like typing, may irritate the wrist tendons and cause swelling as can keeping your wrists extended or flexed
- Health conditions: Some conditions increase your risk of CTS, like diabetes and thyroid conditions
Some jobs involve activities that elevate your risk of CTS or worsen your symptoms, such as typing, driving, data entry, construction, assembly line work, cooking, and using certain tools. And some hobbies and pastimes, like texting, gaming, gardening, and knitting, may also play a role in your condition and symptoms.
How can I manage my CTS symptoms?
If left untreated, CTS usually worsens over time as the disease progresses. But when diagnosed and treated early, it’s possible to avoid CTS surgery and manage or even reverse CTS with nonsurgical therapies.
Before starting treatment, it’s important to have an evaluation by a physician experienced with CTS. Dr. Dickerson evaluates your symptoms, discusses your overall health and health history, and performs and/or orders diagnostic tests to accurately diagnose your condition.
First Dr. Dickerson will do a specialized nerve conduction test to diagnose and assess the severity of the carpal tunnel syndrome and to rule out any other nerve issues
To best manage your CTS and the painful symptoms associated with your condition, it’s important to think of treatment as a two-step process: (1) alleviating pressure on the median nerve; and (2) making lifestyle or activity changes to avoid triggering the conditions that cause the carpal tunnel to swell.
(1) Alleviate pressure on the median nerve
To ease your pain and other CTS symptoms, it’s essential to alleviate the pressure on the median nerve. Depending on the severity of your condition and how it impacts your quality of life, Dr. Dickerson may recommend one or more of the following therapies:
- Wrist splints/braces to keep your wrists and hands correctly aligned
- Physical therapy to stretch and strengthen your wrist and improve grip strength
- Anticonvulsant medication, such as gabapentin, to ease neuropathic pain
- Steroid injections to mitigate inflammation and ease pain
For severe cases of CTS, surgery may be the best way to minimize pressure.
(2) Lifestyle and/or activity changes
Recent research shows lifestyle changes can help treat CTS, like changing the way you carry out activities at work and home.
If your job plays a role in your CTS, talk to your manager about your condition. Try to work in more frequent breaks from the CTS-triggering activities if possible. And know that sometimes wearing a wrist brace or using an ergonomic wrist pad at the computer can help.
If your hobbies are contributing to your CTS, be sure to pay attention to your wrist position, take frequent breaks, and avoid resting your wrists on hard surfaces. You’ll also want to use a loose grip both at work and home, and quit smoking if you use tobacco since it can make CTS worse.
You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, to minimize inflammation and reduce pain and apply ice to the affected wrist for 10-15 minutes several times a day.
Contact Dr. Dickerson and the team at Performance Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine to learn more about managing carpal tunnel syndrome pain by calling the office nearest you or using our online booking system.